With the Israeli Left seemingly frozen out of power indefinitely given the prevailing right-wing zeitgeist, not to mention the ongoing travails of the Labor Party, one could easily argue that Isaac Herzog’s appointment as Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel has significantly enhanced his influence.
Herzog, in his new position, oversees a huge budget upward of $360 million, which goes toward not just the traditional task of facilitating aliyah and absorption, but also the ever-more critical goals of strengthening Jewish identity and connection in the Diaspora while at the same time connecting young Israelis to their Jewish brethren abroad.
With the concern felt by many Diaspora Jews over challenges to liberalism and Jewish pluralism in Israel and the doubts of many Israeli Jews about whether their brothers overseas appreciate the societal tests and security worries the Jewish state finds itself in, Herzog finds himself as a critical fulcrum in this relationship.
As the Jewish Agency and its chairman are often tasked with the role of expressing the voice of Diaspora Jewry to the Israeli government, Herzog must ensure that the concerns of the Jewish people outside of the Jewish state are communicated effectively and sensitively to the prime minister and the governing parties.
Because Herzog comes from the left-wing Labor Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed his candidacy, he may face a harder time than previous chairmen getting his message across.
Notably, even the previous incumbent, Natan Sharansky, who came from the Right, faced severe difficulties and experienced failures in his advocacy for Diaspora Jews. The compromise plan for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall was ultimately frozen indefinitely by the current government, while legislation was passed against non-Orthodox use of mikvaot during his tenure, controversial legislation on conversion itself approved for passage to the Knesset and frequently bitter language emanated from government MKs.
Herzog faces these challenges and more as he takes up the reins of the Jewish Agency.